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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Athens at last
06/06/2012, Athens

Sarah had never, to her own dismay, visited Athens. This despite a childhood obsession with the classics and a lifelong interest in the practice of democracy. On the way back from Skyros, we had ten hours in Athens. Thanks to Aegean again checking our luggage through we scarpered for the Acropolis.

Even in June heat and cruise liner crowds, it was a fantastic feeling to walk on the marble of the processional way, to see the curving columns that fool the eye into perceiving straight symmetry, to admire the splendid views and imagine Theseus sailing home to hear his own black sails had betrayed his father to a suicidal leap.

This is the front of the Parthenon as it is today, still in the huge project of conservation and restoration. We then visited the splendid Acropolis Museum, where there are reconstructions of the friezes that would have graced the higher pediments. This end would have shown the great context between Poseidon and Athene for the patronage of the emerging city, flanked by assorted gods and heroes.

The museum is definitely worth a visit. It has lovely views of the temples, and an excellent cafe too.

Places and people
Questions, questions

John took us the sandstone quarry in use for hundred, maybe thousands of years. The sign, saying Ancient Querry, is its own attraction.

Behind the photographer is a tiny strait to another small island, notorious for shipwrecks. it is deep but a fast current runs through it, and there are little chapels in the querry and on the facing island.

Skyros may have a tiny population but they've been there a long time, so the bones of the dead mount up. It's also very rocky and land suitable for digging is too precious to use for large grave yards. Until quite recently, the solution was to exhume the old bones but instead of an ossuary, to throw them into this narrow strait. Presumably the bones get swept away in the current as the water hasn't got shallower.

Places and people
03/06/2012, Skyros

Skyros is home to a native breed of tough and muscular diminutive pony standing about 1m, or 10 hands high. They're struggling back from the brink, partly helped by tourist interest. In the old days, before mechanisation, the early harvest was threshed by laying the corn out in a circle, rounding up some ponies and driving them round in a line of three of four.

John took us on a trip around the island, and by luck we found a display of the technique. Several of the participants were wearing traditional dress. The driving is a skilled job, as the ponies roam wild across the hills and see little of humans the rest of the year. They're too small for anyone but children to ride, but you do see other ponies being trekked. That would be fun in the cooler months of the year.

The trip also took us to Rupert Brookes' grave, away to the south. The simple marble is enclosed by an low iron palisade, and the base is engraved with lines from 'If I die, think only this of me'. The grave sits in an grove, under trees, with a trickle of admiring visitors but otherwise presides over a setting of romantic nostalgia befitting the man's poetry and beliefs.

Places and people
Belated blogging (all will become clear!)
Hot, sunny, yummy!
29/05/2012, Skyros island

On 29 May we flew to Greece. This journey, compared to our Malta experiences, went very smoothly. Aegean Airlines did us proud and even took our baggage straight through to Skyros. Our only excitement was self-inflicted, when we forgot to make sure that our Heathrow duty free champagne was secured for transit and had an emergency and heated discussion with security at Athens domestic departure gate.

Why the champagne? Come this September Pip's twin brother has a big 50 birthday. We won't be getting together then, so this trip was partly an early celebration. What was as important was our chance to spend some real time with John and Zoe's three month son, Felix. Pip was ecstatic with her first chance to feed him. Thanks to J & Z for being such generous and loving parents with their gorgeous boy.

Places and people
The sea eats away at the rocks
Cool, breezy, beautiful
15/05/2012, Skrinkle, the far west of Wales

Our dear friends Wendy and Graham moved off their boat Vencedor for a new adventure in a house. They bought a project in Pembroke Dock and have turned it into a comfortable home complete with hibernaculum for slow worms.
Today, they've begun showing us round this remote and lovely corner of the country. Pembrokeshire is a home for Celtic Christianity, with rounded crosses and rock-bound hermitages to be found. We walked a short distance of the Pembrokeshire coastal path (apparently 186 miles long) at Skrinkle. The very edge of the Atlantic meets the fierce limestone here, carving archways and clefts to inspire speculation.

Places and people
Different Bays
Sunny, calm, but cool
13/05/2012, Penarth, South Wales

This spectacular view is across Cardiff Bay to the new developments around the Millennium Centre. The centre itself is the big copper curve in the middle, with the hotels and shopping area to the left, various other official buildings to the right, and the hills behind.
We are staying with our old friends Jenny and Liz in their splendid new house, with this spectacle from all the north facing windows, including our bedroom. It's a never changing panorama, with boats, ferries, the wind playing with the water and clouds passing overhead. On a clear day you can see the Severn Bridge some 25 miles away. The English coast of Somerset is 7 miles across the grey water.
It's lovely to see our friends, and remember what a friendly, bustling city is Cardiff. Penarth is full of cultural life and yet has the calm pace of a small town.
After a previous blog and email we realised that lots of friends are at different places in knowing our plans. For those who don't know, Sarah fell and dislocated a finger in February. Trivial though this sounds it has turned out to be major problem, as she cannot hold a rope securely. Originally we hoped it would be good to go by now, but it isn't, being still swollen and painful (some of the time) and weak. The doctors say it may be ok by July.
Our plans are therefore still changing, but we are not back to our sailing life, more's the pity. The silver lining is the chance to visit friends and support the UK economy with all that domestic tourism we are exhorted to enjoy. This is travelling - hence blogging.
For those of you who don't know, Sarah also keeps another blog at That's more about writing, art, and the opportunity to have an occasional policy rant. Today's post will be about a photo exhibition we went to here in Penarth.

Places and people
The Ladies of Valetta
Still hot and sunny

Today was a day off from boat work. We took the water ferry across Marsamxett harbour to Valetta. (Oh, the joy of even five minutes actually afloat and the clear horizon glimpsed through the crabclaw points where the capital nearly touches Sliema.)
The tiny, fortified city is austere and controlled, as befits its foundation by warrior monks. Behind the strict façade and trompe d'oeile ceilings of a knightly auberge are the treasures of different eras in Malta's rich Museum of Archeology. The oldest stone buildings in the world are found on these tiny islands, and within them some of the oldest human figurines. They are women.
These are women who have given birth, with rich hips and nipples which point proudly to the floor. Many are headless, for the heads were made separately and got lost. Or maybe the heads were destroyed in some unknown funerary rite. After 6,000 years it's impossible to know the behaviour of a cult which had no writing. This sleeper, who may of course be dead, still bears marks of red ochre, and so we can imagine she was rich in colour as well as form and dignity.
Afterwards, we had a rather good lunch of pizza and spare ribs. In the afternoon sunshine, we watched a small girl playing grandmother's footsteps with the fountains outside the President's Palace. Valetta is not yet too hot or too crowded so early May is a good time to be here.

Places and people
07/09/2010, Sliema

While Jenny and Liz were still here, we discovered the spa! Pip had her feet manicured by Dr Fish (Garra Rufa to give them their full name) as an early birthday pressie! (Liz did video this, but the youtube clip isn't Pip's actual feet.) These amazing little fish eat at the dead skin presented to them, swarming around over toes and heels. It feels like a TENS machine as they chomp away, mini-piranhas that they are.
So, with the boat tucked up, we returned to the hotel one last time. Pip had a back massage and Aurvedic leg rub, while Sarah had her hands chewed by the fish, and then a full body massage.
Blissed out we went to our newly discovered fave bar, the Jubilee Café in Gzira, for a great brunch. We hugged the boat goodbye and set off on the weary trek away from the sun and the sea towards the rain and chill of the east of England. As we won't be travelling for a while, we won't be blogging much either. We're hoping for an easier winter than last year and plan to be cruising again in April or May.

Places and people
Cooling the legs

Roaring Girl has been placed quite close to the high brick wall around the Yard. Beyond the wall is a small slipway. Fishing and sports boats use it, but the main occupants are horses.
Trotting and sulky racing is very popular in Malta. It's hard on the legs, so everyday there is a stream of horses brought down here to stand in the cooling seawater.

Places and people
Lovely friends
27/08/2010, Sliema

Months ago we arranged to meet various friends in Valetta over the UK August Bank Holiday, to celebrate Sarah's birthday. Due to various misfortunes and competing arrangements only the lovely Jenny and Liz could make it. They stayed at the Hotel Fortina, with a spectacular view across Marsamxett harbour towards Valetta itself.
The hotel has numerous facilities - restaurants, spa, pools, air-conditioning and showers . They were both exhausted from various emotional maulings over the last year and a half, while we were both hot and in need of chilling. It also became really windy that week, so in the end the four of us spent most of the five days lying around the hotel pools and drinking pretty cocktails. And lovely it was! We're not sure exactly what Jenny's doing in the photo, though: she's not usually a palmreader!
We'll sightsee properly when we are here in the spring. It'll be much more comfortable then.

Places and people
And the museum

Siracuse is home to an enormous collection of material from the Neolithic onwards. There are rooms of material and its not at all easy to absorb it all. There are no chubby goddesses to gawp at either.
There is this exquisite Aphrodite. She has been controversial for her sensuality and realism, but we thought her beautiful.

Places and people
The archaeological park

To the west of Siracuse, on the mainland, is the area where the Greeks and Romans established their entertainment complex and ritual centres - temples and theatres. The centrepiece is this massive Greek amphitheatre. Much pillaged by the Romans and then the Spanish, at its height it seated 15,000 on massive tiers of stone carved from the hill, and shaded by awnings. Aeschylus' Etnan Women premiered here. It was the centre of civic life for political events as well.
Also in the park are the quarries, where the stone was dug. This includes two enormous caves, created by the work. One has beautiful acoustics and was christened the Ear of Dionysus (after an important Tyrant, not the bibulous god), by Caraveggio. The other, sadly not open to the public, is the even bigger Ropemakers Cave, favoured for the work as the damp air prevented the rope drying and splitting as it was made.
The Tyrant Heiron II built an enormous temple here for sacrifices to Zeus; there are stories of 450 bulls being killed at one annual festival, but not much now remains above the foundations. Alongside is the Roman amphitheatre. This is smaller, but in its heyday was impressively high. The stage seems quite small compared to the Colisseum, but was obviously big enough for gladiatorial fights and the 'circus' of animal contest. The big tank in the middle is far too small for nautical events, and was probably a drain for the blood.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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